Jonathan Dove’s 1994 one act opera Siren Song is a twisted little piece and very enjoyable. Apparently it’s based on a true story which just makes it weirder. Its the mid 1980s. Davey Palmer is an Able Seaman on HMS Ark Royal. He answers an ad in Navy News from a young woman, Diana, seeking a pen pal. Diana is a model and the relationship gets quite steamy but somehow whenever Davey gets shore leave there is some reason why Diana can’t meet him. Soon Diana’s brother Jonathan is showing up to make the excuses. Diana has throat cancer and can’t make phone calls and on it goes until the nature of the phone calls between Davey and Jonathan leads the MOD police to investigate a possible homosexual relationship. Surprise! There is no Diana and Jonathan is a con man. It’s very cleverly constructed with Diana appearing as a character though, we realise eventually, only in Davey’s imagination and the the pacing is such that our suspicion builds rather than the denouement being a huge surprise.
I went into last night’s Glenn Gould School performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Koerner Hall with all kinds of questions buzzing around in my head; partly because of an earlier conversation with director Joel Ivany and partly, well, Magic Flute – that most enigmatic of operas. If only one could go back (more than forty years) to seeing it for the first time!
It’s always an interesting evening. It’s the first chance of the year to see what the Conservatory has to offer. The first thing I noticed was that the tenor famine seems to be over. There were four tenors on offer to two baritones. Just the one mezzo though and more sopranos than I could count.
I’m not going to get to see this (obv!) but I am intrigued as it’s a concept I’ve not come across before. Next Saturday (November 10th) Mexican-American composer, Nathan Felix, will use headphones to present his new opera titled, The War Bride, at Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival in San Antonio Texas. There will be two performances starting at 7:30pm and 8:30pm in Hemisfair Park. Felix is known for his guerilla style approach in presenting classical music in unconventional spaces and The War Brideis given no exception, with a performance outside along the riverwalk at Hemisfair Park.
The War Bride is based on the memoir of Felix’s late grandmother, Jean Groundsell-Contreras, who married Joe Contreras during World War II in Great Britain. Joe, from Mexico, gained naturalization via serving in the US Army and after the two exchanged vows Joe remained in Germany, as Jean crossed the Atlantic pregnant and alone on the S.S. Saturnia in 1945. Jean eventually settled along the border in Nuevo Laredo with Joe joining her in late 1946. Felix recounts Jean’s tale by using the riverwalk to depict her journey across the Atlantic ocean, the Mississippi river and the Rio Grande river but he also uses the river as a metaphor for hope, division and to shed light on immigration. Jean will be played by sopranist, Elise Miller alongside baritone, Jeremiah Drake and tenor, James Dykman. Drake and Dykman will play a multiple characters in the opera including former British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain and former US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Continue reading →
This year’s GGS School fall opera was a presentation of three short works influenced by Dada and surrealism. The first was Martinů’s Les larmes du couteau. It’s a hard work to describe. Here’s what naxos.com has to offer:
Eleanor longs to marry someone like the Hanged Man, whose body is suspended over the stage. Satan appears, professing love for Eleanor, who rejects him, still longing for the Hanged Man, to which Satan now marries her, an event she celebrates by dancing a tango. A Negro Cyclist appears and Satan assumes the latter’s form. Eleanor seeks to attract the Negro/Satan, while her Mother makes gymnastic gestures at the back of the stage. Eleanor kisses the Negro, whose head bursts open, revealing Satan. Eleanor, terrified, stabs herself and the Hanged Man starts to dance to a foxtrot, as his head and limbs are detached, for him to juggle with. He comes to life and embraces Eleanor, but when she kisses him his head bursts open and the face of Satan is seen. She gives up her pursuit of love, while the Mother claims to know how to win Satan’s love, only to be rejected.
Les Larmes du couteau is very short in duration and offered obvious problems in staging, to be solved, it has been suggested, by the use of film.
Kateryna Khartova and Rachel Miller in Tears of the Knife
Die Fledermaus offers a lot scope for reinterpretation. Like so many works involving spoken dialogue there is a tradition of reworking that dialogue to work in contemporary humour and geographic relevance to the point where there is no canonical version though there’s probably a set of general expectations. Joel Ivany’s production for the Glenn Gould School, which opened last night at Koerner Hall, goes further than most to create a “play within a play” dynamic riffing to some extent on the difficulty of staging an opera in a concert hall. He also makes the decision to use English dialogue but have the sung text in the original German (except for the finale).
The Glenn Gould School’s fall opera production this year is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel given in Brent Krysa’s English language, highly condensed version, originally created for the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour. It really is condensed. There’s no chorus and it comes in at just over the hour mark. The main plot elements are retained but I think quite a bit of the darkness, and most of the religiosity, are gone, though the latter isn’t eliminated entirely. After all, the Evening Prayer and the final chorus are musical highlights and pretty much have to be there. It doesn’t leave any room for the director to explore ideas like child abuse or addiction and pretty much forces, for better or worse, a straightforward emphasis on the basic story.
Last night’s TSO program started off with a sort of Remembrance Day pot pourri; pipes, bugles, a bit of poetry, an excerpt of Vaughan Williams in between and finally a rather beautiful account of The Lark Ascending with Jonathan Crow playing the solo from high up in the Gallery. Once upon a time the TSO would do Remembrance Day by performing an appropriate work or works, Britten’s War Requiem for example. I think that might actually be a more effective way of remembering.
There Toronto Summer Music Festival, inevitably Americas themed this year, opened with a concert called Americans in Paris featuring music by Copland, Gershwin and Bolcom. It was a pretty mixed bag. It opened with Copland’s Appalachian Spring played by 13 members of the TSMF Ensemble and conducted by Tania Miller. It’s not a work I’m particularly fond of but here it was particularly unfocussed and soporific.
If I have a beef with Britten’s Death in Venice it’s that it’s a bit cerebral and bloodless, at least as it has come down in the Aldeburgh-Glyndebourne-ENO performing tradition. I think it’s fair to say that in its bloodlessness it mirrors the Thomas Mann novella (and indeed a lot of Mann’s other writing) but, for me, it’s a challenge to engage with the piece and, especially, with Gustav von Aschenbach. So, it was with surprise and growing pleasure that I watched Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production for, appropriately enough, Venice’s La Fenice. His take is bold and seems to centre less on Aschenbach’s relationshsip with the Polish boy, Tadziu, and more on the conflict between Dionysian and Apollonian ways of thinking and doing and I think it’s clear that Pizzi is a Dionysian.